“People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.”
We’ve all heard the cliché that opposites attract. I’m living proof of that, a fraidycat homebody couch potato, (even though I’m more of a carrot shape) who finds herself intrigued by people who are the complete opposite, people who choose to leave all the comforts of home and family to live in hazardous conditions, endure a lot of pain, take terrifying risks and sometimes lose their lives, all in the name of adventure.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is his account of summiting Mount Everest in 1996. His words brought me along on a terrifying journey, which literally left me breathless. Other climbers who were on the mountain at the same time have also written about their journey, including Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest by Beck Weathers, and The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest by Anatoli Boukreev.
Winnipegger Don Starkell had a clear-cut goal in mind, to travel by canoe from Winnipeg to the headwaters of the Amazon River. Such a simple statement to make, such an astonishing accomplishment. Paddle to the Amazon was one of the first true adventure books I’ve ever read, and it remains a favourite to this day.
Having spent most of my life on the prairie, the ocean holds a particular fascination for me. The Wave by Susan Casey discusses the immense, enthralling, unpredictable power of the ocean, and the irresistible attraction it holds for surfers. Going from the surface of the ocean to its depths, The Last Dive chronicles the lives and premature deaths of a father and son scuba diving team.
Thanks to writers and space travelers like Jim Lovell, Mary Roach and Roberta Bondar, I have felt weightless, conducted experiments in outer space, discovered just how cramped those capsules really are, and learned what to do when Houston is too far away to solve a problem.
Even something as mundane as going for a walk can be an extreme adventure. Take A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. His goal was to travel the entire Appalachian Trail by foot, a distance of more than 3200 kilometres. In a similar spirit, Will Ferguson walked over 900 km in Northern Ireland, a journey he documented in Beyond Belfast. If you’re A. J. Jacobs, you don’t ever have to leave home to have an adventure. A. J. has dedicated a good part of his life to such esoteric pursuits as living his life as closely as possible to the teachings of the Bible for an entire year, and reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. While these adventures don’t take the author far from home they do demand a lot of him mentally and emotionally, and yes, physically.
Reading books by adventurers like these connects me to a worldview vastly different from my own. At times I want yell at the authors, and ask them why they would willingly persist in going to such extremes, literally risking life and limb, going on expeditions that have a high danger factor, and an even higher failure rate, to achieve a goal that in most cases has no tangible reward. At other times, I share in the joy and adrenaline that these intrepid souls seek out.
Although I get a lot of enjoyment from these and other vicarious expeditions, at the end of the day I find myself agreeing with Logan Pearsall Smith. I still prefer reading.